Society is not something external to you: Toward a sociology that learns and practices social inclusion


Meiji Gakuin University’s “Internal Internationalization” project was launched in 2015 with the aim of going beyond “outward-facing” internationalization that focuses on contributing to the international community through globalization and strengthening competitiveness, by furthermore considering domestic issues, fostering students who can understand diverse values that transcend frameworks such as culture, religion, and ethnicity, and by fostering leaders of a multicultural society that is inclusive for persons (people, children) with a refugee or an immigrant background. Professor Midori Sakaguchi of the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Sociology & Social Work, is an organizer of this project, which advocates new forms of internationalization aiming for a multicultural society. Focusing on “lifelong learning theory,” she continues to study ideal forms of the “publicness of education” in both theory and practice. Citizen activities from before social welfare system is established determines the state of society. Professor Sakaguchi is investigating approaches toward clarifying such social processes from the viewpoint of lifelong learning. Even in societies in which a modern school system has been established, those who take note of the changing times and wish to continue pursuing intellectual quests have created various places for independent learning. Since the 2000s, new “citizens’ university” that have been appearing in various places have become sites where people from various circumstances can encounter diverse values. Along with her students and local residents, Professor Sakaguchi is investigating what can we do to realize a society in which everyone can learn and lead rich lives.

Midori Sakaguchi Professor, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Sociology & Social WorkCompleted doctoral degree coursework at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Specializes in sociology and lifelong learning theory. After working as a part-time lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Ochanomizu University, and as a visiting scholar at the Faculty of Educational Philosophy at the Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, in 2013 she became a professor in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Sociology & Social Work, Meiji Gakuin University. Since 2020, she has also served as the University’s Director of the Center for Christian Activities. Her books include The Frontiers of Communitarianism and A Textbook for Lifelong Learning. In addition to serving as a member of the Social Education Committee of Minato Ward, Tokyo and of the Social Education Committee of Saitama Prefecture, she is the twenty-first chair of the Japan Association of Lifelong Education.

Seeking forms of the “public nature of education” from practices of incomplete policies and institutions

The focus of my research is “lifelong learning theory.” This is an academic field that started in the 1960s and became established in the 1980s, one that can be categorized as a successor to social pedagogy. Its research domain is education that occurs outside of school, considering the learning activities of people of all ages, from children to senior citizens. Lifelong learning theory research deals with themes including lifelong learning methodologies, policy theories, and case studies, and among these I am particularly interested in “lifelong learning policies for home and abroad.” By “policy” here I don’t mean legal interpretations, but rather peripheral issues that have not yet formed into policy. The target of my research is thus “budding” areas that have yet to develop into policies and institutions, such as voluntary sectors that support practices and institutions for which institutionalization remains incomplete. I am also investigating and researching sites of citizens’ learning initiatives that I call “social universities.” These include not only lifelong learning centers like those operated by local governments, but also what are commonly known as citizen colleges, those who like Shibuya University are operated by NPOs or volunteer staffs. Stated a little more abstractly, we can consider this as research dealing with the question, “What is the public nature of education?”

Systems of education change according to the various demands of the era and society, but I am interested in the process of how society select and implements those systems. For example, I investigate how systems protect or hinder voluntary groups engaged in educational support activities outside of schools. By visualizing and supporting the variety of educational activities that take place outside of school education in actual society and local communities, including youth education and adult learning at cultural centers, we can apply the brakes when they start to head in the wrong direction from the perspective of the public nature of education. So, I suppose my investigations and research are for that purpose.

There are two reasons why I became interested in this field of research. One is the year I spent as a high school exchange student in Denmark. By spending time in an environment very unlike Japan, in terms of the social status and expected roles of high-school students, as well as the way in which adults interact with children, I came to realize that there is more to the world than given conditions

Especially in the latter half of my study abroad, I was greatly influenced by the experience of living in a dormitory for four and a half months with adults of different nationalities and ages at a Danish “folk high school,” an institution for adult education that emphasizes dialogue. At the folk high school, I spent night after night drinking coffee and talking with all kinds of people: young people recovering from drug addiction, those who had just completed probation after committing some offence, refugees from Iran and Sri Lanka… Denmark has long been a country that emphasizes education and welfare, but in fact private educational institutions have a longer history than do schools and other public educational institutions. Schools where adult farmers would gather to exchange agricultural skills were established, and small gatherings for studying the Bible after it was translated into the local language eventually became schools that taught children to read and write. In this way, private educational venues had already been created from before systems for public education were established. Indeed, public education has a history of being modeled on such private institutions, and education for the masses, which has slightly different origins from those of the modern school system that originated in England during the Industrial Revolution, has continued since to the present day. I believe that my exposure to Denmark’s rich educational sites outside of school education is one factor that brought me to my current research.

Another was studying the history of social thought in graduate school, where I learned about correlations between thought and policy in Germany after the Second World War, tracing through official documents related to debate over reforms of the school education system in Hesse to write my master’s thesis. Reading collections of papers by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas such as Theory and Practice and Knowledge and Human Interests, I learned that theories in the social sciences are discussed on the premise of practice, and that they are relative. Knowledge and Human Interests is a compilation of papers showing a sense of crisis towards the German society of the time, which emphasized social psychology. They are written on the premise that, for better or for worse, social systems are guided by frameworks of people’s interests at the time.

Until then, I had assumed that studying the history of Western philosophy meant studying the history of social thought, but from my readings I learned that social systems are constructed from the dominant discourses of the time, and thus that knowing the history of social thought means seeing that in its entirety. This is why I decided to make “relationships between ideas and institutions in educational policy” my research theme.

Society is not something external to you; you are part of what makes up society, and you can change its systems

The course I currently teach is open to all three courses in the Department of Sociology. It provides an overview that gradually explains the areas necessary for acquiring certification as a “Social Education Supervisor” or “Chief Social Education Supervisor.” In spring semester, lectures deepen students’ knowledge about Japanese social education, covering topics such as its history since the Meiji era, the mechanisms for the administration of social education, the functions and roles of social education facilities such as public halls, libraries, and museums, conversion to lifelong learning policies, and issues in modern lifelong learning. In fall semester, we learn about the history of lifelong learning from the 1960s to the 1970s, which was adopted in response to educational policy recommendations by UNESCO and the OECD, subsequent differences in interest in lifelong learning between developed and developing countries, and the educational systems in some OECD member countries. We also learn about trends in social education in global society, such as how policies for lifelong learning have become more important since the EU’s Lisbon Strategy of 2000 for improving employability and active citizenship in the areas of education and training, subsequent development of lifelong learning policies in EU member states, and an understanding of lifelong learning theory. While discussing surveys and white papers of interest at the time, we will hear lectures that go back and forth between discussions of Japanese and global society.

What I always want to convey through my lectures is that society is not something external to us. The content of my lectures may not be particularly interesting while you’re a full-time student, but I plan my lectures with a belief that once you’re out in society, or when you start playing roles in your community, what you learn from them will definitely be useful. I believe that by gaining knowledge and experience through your studies at university, when you become involved in social systems, various businesses promoted by local governments, public facilities related to social education, etc., there will be moments when you think, “Ah, now I see!” The knowledge and experience you obtain at university will help you realize that society is not something external to you, that you are part of what makes up society, and that you can change its systems. I am confident of that.

Since the 2020 school year, I have been teaching a seminar called “Seminar in Social Education 1.” This seminar corresponds to a curriculum reorganization that calls for one course credit of practical training to satisfy the requirements for qualification as a “Social Education Supervisor.” Since last year, as practical training the entire seminar has participated in the “Mana-marché” project of the Lifelong Learning and Sports Promotion Division of Minato Ward, Tokyo. This project provides a place for people living, attending school, and working in Minato Ward to come together and think about programs for local residents. I have long served as a member of the Social Education Committee of Minato Ward, and when I proposed that it would be nice if there was a place where local residents and students could learn while interacting with each other, creation of this project was the result. I was previously involved as an individual in the administration of social education for Minato Ward and as a policy coordinator and advisor, but since last year I have been participating with students as part of this seminar.

Participants previously gathered at the Minato Ward Lifelong Learning Center to attend lectures, but last year we had to suddenly switch to online meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. About fifteen of my seminar students attended, taking part in contests, online card games, and virtual tours designed to get participants to know Minato Ward better. These events allowed different generations to meet, making them more interesting and responsive than what I had imagined, both for the students and for the participating residents of Minato Ward. While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down lifelong learning activities everywhere, just being able to flexibly implement this project in Minato Ward while drastically changing schedules, as well as being able to participate in that process with my students, resulted in a great deal of learning.

In the fields of social education and lifelong learning, the process of accumulating such individual discussions and experiences provide very important learning materials. Since this is a field in which it is necessary to determine whether to use public funds in each project, how local governments and residents can share the significance of such “cultivating the ground” projects is an issue. The 2021 school year will start in June, and third-year seminar students will split into two teams. This year, we will plan and operate SDG-based online programs on the themes of poverty and the gender gap.

Searching for a society with true multicultural inclusion through the “Internal Internationalization” project

I am currently acting as contact for Meiji Gakuin University’s “Internal Internationalization” project. To promote the University’s globalization, this project was launched in 2015 with the aim of going beyond conventional forms of internationalization that focus on contributing to the international community and strengthening competitiveness, by furthermore considering domestic issues, fostering students who can understand diverse values that transcend the frameworks such as culture, religion, and ethnicity, and by fostering leaders of a multicultural society that is inclusive for persons with an immigrant background, allowing us to foster students with keen insight into human rights issues, etc. This initially started as a cooperative project between the Faculty of Sociology & Social Work and the Center for Liberal Arts, but later expanded University-wide as a President’s Project. By learning through coursework and practice about individual-to-individual connections that transcend countries and ethnic groups, we certify multicultural coexistence supporters and facilitators. This project fosters human resources who can understand and walk with others and contribute to multicultural coexistence in a way that is suited to the Christian educational practices of Meiji Gakuin University.

By becoming involved in this project, I once again became keenly interested in policies for multicultural coexistence. As a group having an interest in educational policy, through a special promotional project at the Institute of Sociology and Social Work, we visited areas considered as having advanced multicultural policies, including Kyoto, Osaka, Toyohashi (Aichi Prefecture), and Kawasaki (Kanagawa Prefecture), giving us the opportunity to speak with specialists and representatives from NPOs. Japan does not have a comprehensive immigration policy, so regions must by themselves deal with various issues related to non-Japanese residents. NPOs and NGOs are striving to promote a multicultural society at the grassroots level, for example as methodologies cultivated by local governments through their careful response to issues such as education and policies for social integration and dealing with discrimination against Koreans living in Japan, channels for exchange with foreigners through programs for international exchange and cooperation that developed from sister cities programs that arose during the Cold War, and by developing and supporting self-help groups for sharing life issues.

While learning about the flexibility of volunteer groups from these local practices, I am thinking about how we can eliminate inconveniences in the social lives of non-Japanese persons, such as a lack of systems. By providing learning support for children with a refugee background, students participating in this project can realize for the first time the high barriers to study that were easy for they themselves to overcome. They can see with their own eyes the state of families whose lives are at the mercy of fate, unable to see the path their lives will take due to the difficulty of educational phrasings such as “find the solution” and the incompleteness of systems between nations. At the same time, they can learn respect for elementary school students who say they want to learn multiple languages and become doctors, as well as junior high school students who can comfortably discuss international politics with older people. They can also learn that the seemingly carefree children they see having fun during breaks are responsible for the daily care of their siblings, and must act as a mediator between the outside world and parents who speak little Japanese, as well as how important opportunities for focused study can be for those children. It is an opportunity for learning about issues in Japanese society from a new perspective, even for students who have experienced study abroad. We are now in the sixth year of the Internal Internationalization project, but with the aid and cooperation of the Support 21 Social Welfare Foundation and Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., alongside the students and enthusiastic faculty and staff involved in the project, I am exploring how to realize a better multicultural society.

Researchers of lifelong learning theory have many opportunities for involvement as council members within boards of education in local governments, and I myself serve on such committees in Minato Ward, Bunkyo Ward, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Saitama Prefecture. Social inclusion has become a major topic in the fields of social education and lifelong learning, and many such councils are taking up the theme of what is needed to realize communities that are easy to live in, especially for foreign residents. By serving as an adviser for the design of such plans and projects for various municipalities, I have come to think about what kinds of actors should implement social inclusion policies and the procedures by and scales at which they should be implemented. A number of issues need to be immediately addressed, including recognition of refugees in Japanese society, inhumane practices by the Japanese immigration bureau, problems with Japan’s technical intern training system, and persons forced to live with no nationality. Meanwhile, foreign residents face many problems even if they have lived in Japan for a long time and can speak Japanese fluently. When there are few means of social participation and few opportunities for reeducation reduce society’s potential. I am feeling the need to confront such needs by non-Japanese residents who intend to remain in Japan.

If the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic continues for a long time, among programs related to lifelong learning, we can expect those related to “meaning of life” and citizen activities to be considered as unneeded, along with society as a whole shifting more toward human capital development. However, to avoid heading too far in that direction, it will be necessary to pay attention to what the EU refers to as citizenry, that is, “fostering those who will shape society.” Ideally, when I reread this article ten years from now, these problems in the society we live in today, including those related to multicultural inclusion, will have been overcome to the point where they seem trivial. To that end, I will focus on what I can do now with my students while combining theory and practice.